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Social Worker Registration Workshop - Maharey Spch

Hon Steve Maharey Speech Notes

Community Provider Workshop On Social Worker Registration

Quality Hotel, Wellington.


It is a pleasure to meet with you today to discuss social work registration.

Discussing social work registration reminds me of a conversation I had with National Radio’s Kim Hill about the Department’s Maori strategy Te Pounamu. Kim wanted to know what was so radically new about a goal to keep children safe within their communities - and the answer, of course, is that there is nothing new about the goal - what is radically new is that we will be ensuring the Department works to achieve it.

Social work registration isn’t new either; it has been the subject of debate over a number of years. There has been concern about a perceived the lack of credibility of social work as a profession and there has been a growing expectation from New Zealanders, particularly those who use social services, that social workers should be more accountable for their work.

We heard these concerns right through the 1990’s and in response our pre election policies included the establishment of a system of professional registration for social workers. As a government we believe in keeping our word (another new development some might say) - and the legislation to establish the social worker registration board is currently with the Social Services Select Committee.

Social Worker Profile

So who are our social workers?

In the 1996 Census 8,172 people identified themselves as social workers. Of these, 58% worked in the community / voluntary or private sector, and the majority of those for non-profit organisations and charities.

In the Census data there were two significant differences between social workers working in the community / voluntary sector and those working for government organisations. The first was that more social workers in the private sector worked part time - 33%, compared to 16% of social workers in the government sector. Secondly, social workers in the community / voluntary sector were less likely to have a qualification. Just 13% of social workers working in the community sector had a university degree or higher, compared to 31% of social workers employed in the government sector.

In fact 24% of social workers in the community sector reported having no qualifications at all (and that means no school qualifications), compared to 11% of social workers in the government sector - which is itself a surprisingly high figure.

Consultation on Registration

In the year 2000 a consultation exercise was undertaken on social worker registration - and I would imagine everyone in this room was involved I producing individual or agency responses. We were of the view that it was important for social workers, the general public and organisations with an interest in social work to have an opportunity to help determine what sort of system should be used to regulate the profession.

Just over 300 written submissions were received in response to the discussion paper. In addition, 19 focus group meetings were held throughout the country to discuss social work registration. In total, around 380 people attended the nine hui, three fono and seven general focus group meetings that took place.

Submissions came from a broad cross section of social workers employed in care and protection, the voluntary sector, justice and health, from employers of social workers, from social work educators and from some individuals who had used social work services. Social workers also attended many of the focus group meetings. In May 2001 the Registration of Social Workers Consultation Summary Report was published which summarised all the submissions that were made.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who contributed to the consultation process. The feedback that was received was carefully considered and was the basis for the development of the Social Workers Registration Bill.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the contribution that the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers has made. The Association has always been at the forefront of discussions on social worker registration in New Zealand, and I have appreciated their readiness to share their extensive knowledge and expertise in this area. They will, I understand, be sharing with you their view of the implications of registration for the profession later this morning.

The Registration Bill

The Ministry of Social Development will be giving you an overview of the Social Workers Registration Bill later this morning so I won’t go into too much detail about what is included in it.

The Bill establishes a regulatory framework for the registration of social workers in New Zealand. The framework will be applicable across all the sectors where social workers are employed - in government and non-government agencies, and in private practice.

The measures in the Bill are designed to protect the safety of members of the public. Registration will improve the quality of social work services. Fitness and competence to practise are key prerequisites to registration. Registered social workers will be made accountable for their practice through a new complaints and disciplinary process.

As outlined in clause 3 of the Bill, the purpose of the Bill is:

- to protect the safety of members of the public, by prescribing or providing for mechanisms to ensure that social workers are competent to practise, and accountable for how they practise;

- to create a framework for the registration of social workers in New Zealand, and establish a board to register social workers and a tribunal to consider complaints about registered social workers;

- to enable the board to promote the benefits of registration of social workers to departments of State, other instruments of the Crown, other bodies and organisations that employ social workers, and the public, and among social workers themselves; and,

- t enhance the professionalism of social workers.

As you will be aware, many other professions already have established forms of statutory regulation - for example, teachers, nurses, psychologists and lawyers.

Introducing an entirely new system for the statutory registration of social workers is an interesting challenge. It has been made easier by building on the voluntary system of competence assessments established by the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers. The new statutory based system will take some time to bed in. It is a medium to long term strategy that will show results overtime. This is especially true given that many social workers currently practising do not have qualifications in social work.

I am also aware that there has been and continues to be a debate about the voluntary system of registration that is proposed in the Bill. The consultation process undertaken by the then Ministry of Social Policy confirmed my confidence that the social work sector almost unanimously agrees that social workers should be subject to registration. What is being debated is the form that registration should take and whether heavy pressure is required to “force” social workers to professionalise. I for one believe social workers are willing and able to take control of their profession and its standards, if given the tools to do so - and the Bill is that tool.

The Bill as it stands clearly promotes a certification model of voluntary registration for the following reasons:

First, all decisions about occupational regulation must comply with the Ministry of Economic Development’s Framework for Occupational Regulation. The framework specifies that occupations should be regulated at the lowest level possible to avoid unnecessary inflexibility, barriers to entry and the creation of exclusive and elite sub-groups within an occupation. Application of the framework indicated that the risk of service failure in the social work occupation is moderate to high. Consequently, the certification model was considered most appropriate for regulating the social work occupation. Over regulating social work would not be in the interests of the profession. The social work registration legislation is intended to be empowering rather than prescriptive. This will allow the profession to determine how they wish regulation to work for them.

Second, the system of regulation as proposed by the Bill is consistent with the models of regulation used by similar professions. For example, registration is not compulsory for psychologists, however legislation does protect the title “clinical psychologist’. Now it is practically impossible to be employed in a job undertaking the duties performed by a clinical psychologist without being registered. This was achieved not because registration was statutorily compulsory for all psychologists, but because the registered title and what it means is so valued by employers.

Responding to Registration

Registration will impact on employers across the whole sector, including Child Youth & Family as a Department. Child youth & Family has started to respond to the challenge, and I would like to briefly touch on some of their current initiatives.

In brief the key elements of the implementation programme are:

- Accreditation of Child, Youth and Family as a Government Training Establishment

- Support for newly recruited unqualified staff to obtain work-based qualifications, with a focus on induction training which kicked off in January this year.

- Site and regional action planning to provide for all current social work staff to become qualified within 6 years.

- Supporting up to 50 recruitment bursars for final year tertiary students annually.

- Working with social work education providers to:

- Improve / increase course content in respect of statutory social work

- encourage distance and e-learning initiatives

- make the placement process work more smoothly

- Staff census to develop a comprehensive database of the current levels of qualification amongst social work staff

In my view community provider delivered services are a key part of the mix for Child Youth and Family Services, and are likely to be increasingly so.

I know that meeting the requirements of registration will be a significant challenge for many providers. However, I believe that the aspirations of the Registration Bill are worthwhile, and no less than what the public of New Zealand are demanding

Currently, my understanding is that while providers are required to have policies and procedures covering human resources, very little is known about the overall employment situations of providers collectively. In particular, there is no solid information on how many providers employ social workers, poor information on how many social workers are actually employed, and whether or not they are qualified - beyond the sort of aggregate census data I quoted earlier.

Purpose of this Workshop

This workshop is an opportunity to canvass the issues facing the Provider Sector as it prepares for registration and to identify any related issues concerning Child, Youth and Family approval and funding relationships with social service providers. An action plan, which may include more in-depth information gathering, is the intended to be one output from this workshop.

I look forward to receiving feedback following the workshop.

I am pleased that you are being proactive in considering how this new system of registration might impact upon you. I urge you to consider this change as a challenge and an opportunity that will lead to clients receiving a better quality service from all social workers.


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